Friday, 8 April 2011

A regular briefing on agrilcultural issues put together by Nick Read OBE FRAgS the Chaplain for Agriculture and Rural Life in the Diocese of Hereford.

Badgers/Bovine TB update
6 months ago my briefing contained an item headed “Government affirms commitment to badger cull”, suggesting that an announcement was imminent. This is now considered most unlikely as, following the difficulty over selling off forests and woodlands, government are unwilling to announce any contentious new issues in advance of the local government elections. A decision is not now expected until later, when the optimum time to control badgers for this year will have passed, delaying any implementation until 2012. In contrast, Welsh Assembly members have recently confirmed legislation for a cull in Wales, within an area to be called the Intensive Action Area (IAA), though the badger cull may be an election issue in the forthcoming government elections.

The number of animals slaughtered in Britain due to bovine TB fell by 3,000 for 2010 compared to 2009, mainly in Wales, but the number of new herd incidents rose from 4602 in 2009 to 4703. England fared worst with a rise of 300 new herds with the disease. A total of almost 8,000 farms suffered some degree of restriction due to TB during the year.

Single Farm Payment delays
The backlog in Single Farm Payments (SFP) is causing severe financial hardship for some farmers. The government set a target that 95% of claims should have been paid by the Rural payments Agency (RPA) by the end of March, but this target has not been met. The industry has asked the RPA to make partial payments to those concerned, pending their full awards. Farm Crisis Network, a Christian charity that is helping farmers through the crisis, has asked for donations to help with this aspect of its work as its caseload has increased substantially. Cheques can be sent to FCN, Manor Farm, West Haddon, Northampton NN6 7AQ. The FCN helpline number for those requiring its services is 0845 367 9990.

Greenhouse Emissions to be cut
A “Greenhouse Gas Action Plan” is to be launched in early April designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the farming industry by the equivalent 3m tonnes of C02 by 2020. Farming is directly responsible for about 9% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions, including 41% of the nation’s methane.

Renewable energy
The guaranteed European payment of Feed in Tariffs (FiTs) for electricity generation through renewable sources has helped to boost research and uptake in the technology. However, the scheme was primarily intended to support small to medium scale applications, including private householders, and not to support industrial or field-scale units. Concern is being expressed that the payments for photovoltaic systems, in particular, are leading to a surge in large scale “solar farms” and that there will be insufficient funding to support smaller and domestic-scale installations. Current Fit payments are 31.4p per kilowatt hour (kWh) for systems that generate 10-100kW and 29.3p/kWh for systems generating 100kW to 5MW. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has issued a consultation (deadline for responses May 6th), which proposes changing the bands to: 19p/kWh for systems generating 50-150kW; 15p/kWh for those generating 150-250kW; and 8.5p/kWh for those generating 250kW-5MW. There would be a rise in FiT payments for small-scale anaerobic digesters on farms, where the uptake has not been as great.The reaction from the industry has generally been unfavourable, indicating that investor’s confidence in the sector is likely to decline leaving the UK poorly positioned in land-based renewable energy.

A new Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) has been launched aimed at reducing the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels. £860m is available to support the installation of equipment such as biomass boilers, solar thermal panels and ground source heat pumps in domestic and commercial properties. RHI provides eligible claimants with index-linked quarterly payments for the renewable heat that is produced from qualifying technologies, and the tariffs will be paid for twenty years from the date of joining the scheme, provided the claimants demonstrate a use for the heat that is produced. Combined heat and power plants (CHP) may be eligible for both FiT and RHI provided there is no double accounting. There are believed to be significant opportunities for farms to benefit from the RHI, such as using coppice or straw in biomass boilers.

Support for Uplands
Government has announced a £26m package to support England’s hill farmers, as part of an Uplands Policy Review. The funding includes £6m to pay for environmental management, and £20m for a Rural Community Broadband Fund targeted at rural areas with poor internet connections. The government recognises that “public good” is a core element of hill farming.

Levy rates rise
Producers and growers are charged a levy to support promotion of UK food, and the rates are set to rise following consultations earlier this year. Levy rates in Wales will rise by £1.10 per head of cattle to £5.76; 14p per calf (17p); 16p per sheep (83p); and 20p per pig (£1.30): whilst in England they will rise by 55p per head of cattle to £4.05); 1p per calf (8p); 9p per sheep (60p); though pigs will remain at the current rate of 85p. Cereal producers will pay an extra 6p per tonne (46p), and oilseed producers an extra 10p per tonne (75p). The money raised is intended to be invested in boosting exports and marketing.

Stay up to date with the 'Rural Church and Community Matters' blog: